2001 - Apple iPod: Digital Music Revolution Officially Happens
Throughout its long history that started in 1977, Apple has always been a pretty creative company that has constantly used untraditional approaches to technology and software. But as time went by and Apple consistently failed to meet price-points demanded by end-users and also did not use Windows operating system, the company's market share shrank as a consequence. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the company was struggling for survival and was amid twelve year record low stock price.
Thanks to return of Jobs onto the position of chief executive officer of Apple, from 1997 to 2001 a number of interesting products were launched, including the iMac, iBook as well as PowerMac G4. All of these featured aesthetic design as well as some new technologies, such as Wi-Fi, not available from competitors back then. But the real return of Apple as a provider of solutions for the masses was the iPod personal digital media player.
By the late nineties MP3 music format became popular among enthusiasts and allowed to quickly get music from the Internet. One of the main problems, however, was the fact that the majority of such downloads were illegal and consequently audio files, especially new tracks, were not easy to find. Moreover, even if MP3 music stores existed, they lacked broad choice of music. In general, while the digital music revolution had already happened, it did not happen to the masses. Moreover, there were very few applications that allowed to convert files from one format to another, organize music on players or even enhance quality of MP3s.
Since the file-sharing technology quickly got popular, portable MP3 players emerged on the market. As all ne devices, those products were in the process of finding the right balance between size, battery life, features, design and so on. For example, many first-generation MP3 players used CDs to store music, which made them bulky; or NAND flash memory, which was too expensive to be installed in large quantities, hence, those players could not store a lot of songs. Naturally, neither of the players was ideal. As a result, the masses were reluctant to acquire sub-par devices.
Apparently, Steve Jobs did recognize the power of digital music and digital music downloads all together. He formed a team headed by Jon Rubinstein within Apple, which created a player in less than a year. The player was based on technologies originally designed by PortalPlayer company, but Apple installed a portable hard disk drive instead of flash or CD drive, developed an easy to use interface (which was actually copied from Creative Nomad music player introduced earlier and the two companies eventually had a legal dispute about this) and ensured simplistic usage as well as visually attractive design. In October, 2001, the iPod was officially introduced and went on sale, but its reliance on FireWire interface, $399 price-point and some other factors did not make it popular from day one. Still, its success was evident: Apple sold 125 thousand of the first-gen iPods by the end of the year.
Before releasing iPod, Apple developed a special software suite called iTunes (launched in early 2001) that could easily convert files to and from MP3 format, organize music libraries, create playlists, mixes and so on. The software eventually gained support for iPod and Rio music players.
The combination of iPod and iTunes gained some popularity among Macintosh users and already in mid 2002 the company released iTunes for Windows along with the second-generation iPod, which sported new scroll wheel and had better visual design, but was still expensive and relied on FireWire interface.
In May, 2003, the company announced the third-generation iPod with USB support as well as iTunes music store with one of the largest collection of MP3 music files available. After that date sales of the iPod began to skyrocket. Apple proclaimed second millionth iPod sold in early 2004 and in May '04 shipments of the players hit the 3 million landmark.
The very first iPod introduced in 2001 was, just like other players on the market, not ideal. But it was the player that took the step into the right direction. It represented the official beginning of the digital music revolution.